Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sten Konow: The Aryan Gods of the Mitani People

Recent findings in ancient human DNA are leading to narratives like the following, e.g., Tony Joseph in Outlook India, September 12, 2019:
And here is an equally unambiguous and clear statement from the study published in Science a few days ago, titled: "The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia": "Using data from ancient individuals from the Swat Valley or northernmost South Asia, we show that Steppe ancestry then integrated further South in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE, contributing up to 30 per cent of the ancestry of most modern groups".

So it is clear, without even a shadow of a doubt, that both the studies support the migration of Central Asian pastoralists who brought Indo-European languages to India, between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE.
For our purposes, let us stipulate that the genetic evidence of the handful of ancient individuals has been interpreted correctly to show a migration into India of Central Asian Pastoralists between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE.   The problematic assertion is this:  "who brought Indo-European languages to India, between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE."  

The only direct evidence of language in India from that era is of the Vedic language, of the Rg Veda and subsequent works.   The theory of Aryan Invasion/Migration is that these Central Asian pastoralists brought the Vedic language to India, and so the Rg Veda, if composed in India, must date to 2000 BCE - 1500 BCE or so.

The Rg Vedic hymns sing the praises of the mighty Saraswati river, and the geographical information in later texts of the drying/dried-up Saraswati plus modern science enables us to identify the ancient perennial river that the Saraswati must have been, and it last flowed 9000 to 4500 years before present. 

The Rg Veda places the Saraswati along with the Ganga, Yamuna and the rivers of Punjab and so the theory that the Vedic people transferred the name of some river outside of India to the river that was already desiccated when they arrived is hardly tenable.  Why they would not transfer the holy name of Saraswati to one of the great rivers they newly encountered is another mystery.   Totally far-fetched is the notion that the Vedic people took an older tradition from non-Indo-European inhabitants and translated it into their hymns.

Next, we have the treaty between the Hittites and the Mitani, found in the cuneiform library unearthed at Boghazkoi in Turkey which mention Vedic gods - specifically Indra, Mitra-Varuna and the Nasatyas.   The dates given via Egyptian and Middle Eastern chronologies for the Mitani treaty are 1375 BCE - 1350 BCE.   The lineage of the Mitani signatory, Mattiuaza (a.k.a. Shattiwaza) is known, via the cuneiform libraries,  to have extended at least four  generations prior, and his ancestor, Shuttarna I, son of (legendary?) Kirta is dated to early 15 century BCE.

So how did Indra, Mitra-Varuna and the Nasatyas make their way to ancient Mesopotamia around 1500 BCE?  The Aryan Invasionist postulates that these deities developed before the Aryans reached India and then some branch of the Aryans carried these gods to the Mitani lands and some other branch carried them to India.

 Norwegian Indologist Sten Konow, in his paper published in 1923,  argues persuasively that the Vedic gods were of Indian development.  Since I found it difficult to get hold of a copy of this paper, I imagine it is the same for others,  and so I present here a scan (link) and a transcript (link) of the paper.

 Konow like the other Indologists of his time, believed in the Aryan Invasion Theory.  His chronology seems to be an early Indo-European period, followed by a period of Aryan unity, when the ancestors of the Indian/Iranian Aryans ranged from perhaps the Volga to the outskirts of India; and lastly the Indian period, after the Aryans split into Indian, Iranian and possible other branches.  Konow argues that the Vedic gods as mentioned in the Mitani treaty are developments from the Indian period, and not from the period of Aryan unity.   Konow writes:

"As far as I can see, everything points to the conclusion that Jacobi was right in maintaining that the Mitani gods were Indian and not Aryan, so that we must, in fact, assume that the sphere of Indian civilization had, in the middle of the second millennium B.C., extended into Mesopotamia. The epoch of the Aryan conquest of India and the beginning of Indian civilization must consequently be relegated to a still earlier period, though we have no means of stating how long an interval we must assume between the Aryan invasion and the Mitani treaty. There is, however, one small detail which prevents us from thinking that this interval was quite short."

"I hope to have made it probable that these gods were Indian and not Aryan or even Iranian. If the conception of the Aśvins as groomsmen belongs to the later phases of the Ṛgveda period, as it seems to do, we must further draw the conclusion that the extension of Indo-Aryan civilization into Mesopotamia took place after the bulk of the Ṛgveda had come into existence. The oldest portions of the collection would consequently have to be considered as considerably older than the Mitani treaty. "
If you accept Konow's conclusion, this means there is simply not enough time for Central Asian Pastoralists to enter India between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE, with Indo-European languages and the precursor forms of Indra, Mitra, Varuna and Nasatyas; to develop the later forms of the deities, and then carry them to the Mesopotamia by 1500 BCE."

The modern Aryan invasionist/migrationist, as far as I know, conveniently doesn't address Konow's arguments.  It would be interesting to see a modern response to Konow.  It would also be interesting to see how the non-invasionist accommodates or dismantles Konow's arguments.

What are the possibilities that the Aryan invasions might entertain?

One could open a can of worms by casting doubt on the Mitani chronology.  One could also cast doubt on Konow's (invasionist) reading and interpretation of the Vedic literature. One might argue that developments in the Vedic pantheon were being contemporaneously being transmitted from northern India to Mesopotamia -- but in that case, one would have to rethink how language and Indo-European culture was transmitted, migrations and invasions are hardly necessary.

One might argue that the ancient human DNA is wrongly dated, and the invasion/migration that the genetic evidence indicated actually occurred a thousand years earlier.  But the geneticists are unlikely to have the eras so wrong. In any case, the Aryan invasionist won't want to give up the 2000 BCE-1500 BCE chronology in any case.

IMO, the most viable conclusion is that the Vedic pantheon was developed in India much before 1500 BC and migrated from India to the Mitani lands.   In which case the people that genetics says were migrating into India between 2000 BCE and 1500 BCE did not introduce Indo-European languages to India, the Vedic language was already there.  This is not impossible, the Sakas around 200 BCE - 100 CE, and the English, 1700-1950 CE also carried with themselves Indo-European languages to India, but did not introduce them to India.   The Aryan invasionist can continue to postulate that the first entry of Indo-European language into India was via invasion or migration, but the evidence of the Mitani treaty is that this event has to be much prior to 1500 BC; and via the evidence of the Saraswati, prior to 2500 BC.

A point peripheral to the above, but of interest is that Konow argues on linguistic grounds that the dasyus/dasas mentioned in the Rg Veda as the enemies of the Vedic people were not speakers of Dravidian languages, but rather spoke in Kolarian tongues (the Austroasiatic language family in India).

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Satellite Remote Sensing Techniques to Unearth the Lost Sarasvati River & its Palaeochannels

Dr. B.K Bhadra from ISRO presents detailed multi resolution satellite studies of the river Saraswati in northern Haryana. He discusses the specifics of the remote sensing techniques, including satellite imagery, used to study the paleo channels of the river and related analysis. In his present research, he focuses on high resolution optical and microwave satellite data in delineating the paleo channels in Haryana and Punjab as well as the Sarasvati delta structure in the Rann of Kutch to present an integrated map of the Sarasvati paleo channels. He presents material to show that paleo channels have also been validated through collateral ground data such as published maps during British and Mughal periods, as well as paleo geomorphic structures, hydrological parameters and radiometric ages of river sediments. By considering evidence from archaeology as well and the spatial distribution of the Harappan settlements, Dr. Bhadra presents how the entire course of the river Sarasvati has been delineated and the growth of Indus-Sarasvati civilization studied from these disciplinary perspectives.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Is there such a thing as intelligence?

On dailykos, Nonlinear asks: Is There Such A Thing As Intelligence?

Writing about himself,
As I moved forward in school a pattern began to emerge. I am what is known as a three tier learner. There are subjects in which I express severe learning disabilities. ....Then there is a second tier, subjects where I am right around average. In school this was things like Social Studies, English, Art, Chemistry, Biology, Auto Mechanics, Wood Working, Drafting, Literature and Physics. I was a B student in all these things.
Then there were the things I was gifted in which included  Math, Metal Work, Music and Physical Education. And once I got into an enriched High School you can add Agriculture, Ag Mechanics, Home Ec, Electronics, Plumbing, and Economics. In these I was an A+ student
But depending which IQ test you administer and how you administer it I go off the conventional scoring table (over 200) or am far below average and profoundly disabled at 69. You can manipulate the test you give me to get a result anywhere in between. The smartest move I have ever made was refusing to allow them to write about me in journals and turn me into a circus freak. I am a human calculator. I honestly can’t understand why people can’t just multiply and divide large numbers in their head. I also calendar calculate. And yes I have been called an Idiot Savant, for a while that was my diagnosis.

But being a freak has lead to me being fascinated by intelligence and how it works. I have come to conclude that there is no such thing as general intelligence. All mental activity is situational. 
Nonlinear then takes up the case of animal whisperers of which he is one to make his point.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

India has no native religions - a summary

From Dr Pingali Gopal's book summary of Europe, India and the Limits of Secularism by Jakob de Roover.

The two important properties of religion are: first, it must make a claim about the origin and purpose of the world (the how and why of the Cosmos); and secondly, this message must be true This is the ‘metaphysical’ position of any religion.

Based on the metaphysical conditions, Indian traditions are not possibly religions. They do not properly raise the issue of origin of the Cosmos. Vedas, Upanishads, Brahmanas, Puranas, Itihaasas have multiple stories of creation and purposes of Cosmos. The ideas in the multiple stories say just about everything and everything. Depending on the context, an individual in the multiple narratives may call the question of Cosmos origin illegitimate; or consider it pure speculation lacking any truth value; or say that all claims are true; or even suggest that Cosmos has no origin and is always present. The Buddhists and the Jains have no conception of a God in the first place! Strangely, in Indian tradition and culture, a person can equally believe all the stories and may equally reject all of them. Finally, it looks almost as if the ‘origin’ question and the place of God are irrelevant.

Religion is thus impossible in a culture where the questions of origins can be an illegitimate one. The Western world is always in a grip of historicity trying to find the truth value of its scriptures. The Biblical history is right in the center of investigation with advocates and opponents on either side of the battle line trying to prove or disprove. This attitude hardly excites or disturbs their counterparts in India. It is the attitude of a culture towards the holy books that generates questions or fails to do so. Literature investigating the truth claims made by ‘religious texts’ is absent in India. To ask whether they are true or false is to exhibit a profound ignorance of the culture whose stories they are.
As another component, there must be certain sociological conditions absolutely required for guaranteeing the identity of religions. These are:
  • a world-view codified in a textual source called a ‘holy-book’ and must be widely known
  •  a standard world-view with clear boundaries and which cannot undergo changes across generations
  • an authority to settle disputes in transmission and interpretation of stories and legends (thus having a hierarchy of texts)
  • a source of excommunication when two interpretations collide (say Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism)
  • an organization to transmit and propagate its world-views.
These five sociological conditions are necessary to allow the transmission of the world-views across space and time so that they may preserve their identity over generations. None of these conditions fulfil in India with respect to Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, and so on. Hence, in metaphysical and sociological terms, it is an impossibility that Indian culture knows of religions or its secularized version-a world view.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Jammu & Kashmir - flashback to 1948

October 5th 1948:
Pakistan most certainly will not give Kashmir up in the face of Indian threats.  To many Pakistani officers it seems probable that the war in Kashmir is at present essential to the existence of the Indian Union.   They see it as the one common factor uniting all the different forces, which, if left to themselves, would pull the State to pieces.  Without a "popular war" the Nehru Administration would have to settle the conflicting claims of its own members, satisfy the Sikhs, reconcile labour and capital, deal with the Communists and take drastic and unpopular measures to stop the drift of the national economy towards complete chaos.  Hyderabad was a card which was good as long as it was held; now that it has been played there remains only Kashmir and the stakes on that card have been made so heavy in both men, money and prestige, that it cannot remain unplayed much longer.  Recent speeches by Union Ministers do tend the suggest the obtrusion [sic? intrusion] of the U.N.O. into the relations between India and her State of Kashmir has been a tedious restraint on the Union's ability to manage her own affairs efficiently.  Patel going so far as to remark on October 1st, that "if the Security Council releases us from that embarrassment we shall perform that operation also (i.e., Kashmir) with the least amount of danger." A singularly vacuous remark if ever there was one! Either Mr. Patel was using Hyderabad as a yard-stick to measure the Indian Army's martial prowess, or else he was completely ignorant of the military implications and the political consequences of a Union advance upto the Pakistan border.
This is from Adrian Reed (Junior Staff Member, Lahore Deputy High Commission posted to Rawalpindi) to Olver  (?Stephen Olver, Pakistan Foreign Service in Karachi).

(# 70 in "Towards a Ceasefire in Kashmir, British Official Reports from South Asia, 18 September - 31 December 1948", Editor: Lionel Carter).

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The obliquity of the ecliptic

On IndiaFacts, Anil Narayanan makes the case that the astronomers who wrote the Surya Siddhanta measured the obliquity of the ecliptic to be arcsin(1397/3438) = 23.975° and not 24° as has been translated by Whitney et. al. since 1858; since 24° would be expressed as arcsin(1398/3438) or arcsin(1399/3438) and never arcsin(1397/3438).
This is an important observation which bears repeating: The precision of the Indian R-Sine is 1/3438.

This puts the Surya Siddhanta to some 3000 BC.  Anil Narayanan promises more to support this date.
We currently know of at least 3 other items in Indian astronomy that point to 3000 BC, or thereabouts.

1) The value of the Sun’s equation-of-center given in the SS indicates a time range of 3000 BC or older;

2) The ubiquitously mentioned pole-star in Indian astronomy and literature, namely Dhruva (modern name Thuban), indicates a period about 3000 BC;

3) It is mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana text that the Krittika Nakshatra rises exactly in the East, which occurred only in ancient times, around 3000 BC. Nowadays Krittika rises between East and North-East.

We will discuss these in other articles.
If Anil Narayanan is right, then he is also right about this:
The misconception, which has to do with the tilt, or obliquity, of the earth’s axis, also ranks among the most clever and successful obfuscations in Indian astronomy carried out by the European scholars of yesteryear. They skillfully achieved the difficult task of hiding the treasure in plain sight, so to speak.
The two questions that I have are - how was this angle measured or inferred, and what is the origin of the Indian standard radius of 3438?

Answer to 3438 - it is the approximate radius of the circle in minutes (the exact value is  3437.74677078...).

My criticism of Anil Narayanan's article - see Aryabhatta's sine table on Wiki.  1397 comes from a linear interpolation for 24° between rows 6 and 7 of that table.

That is,
22° 30' = 1350' has jya = 1315
26° 15' = 1575' has jya = 1520
What is the angle whose jya = 1397?
The linear interpolation answer is 1350' + (1397 - 1315) * (1575' - 1350')/(1520 - 1315)
= 1350' + 82 * 225'/ 205 = 1440' (exactly!)
1440' = 24°.

This is probably how Whitney et. al. came to 24°.   The question then was linear interpolation the method of calculation used? e.g., see the same Wiki article.  I think to establish the point made Anil Narayana's article, we have to know how intermediate values in the R-sine table were computed.

Or, following Anil Narayanan's philosophy, that the precision of the Indian R-Sine is 1/3438, the obliquity of the ecliptic in the Surya Siddhanta is not an approximate 24°:
According to Mr. Bentley, the Hindu astronomers (unless in cases where extraordinary accuracy is required) make it a rule, in observing, to take the nearest round numbers, rejecting fractional quantities: so that we have only to suppose that the observer who fixed the obliquity of the ecliptic at 24 degrees, actually found it to be 23 and 1/2.
 Rather the measured obliquity of the ecliptic is bounded by arcsin(1396/3438) and arcsin(1398/3438), i.e, between 23° 59' and 24° 1'  (23.983° and 24.017°).

Using the formula here: http://glossary.ametsoc.org/wiki/Obliquity_of_the_ecliptic

or a more exactly formula one can estimate the range of times of that observation.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Talk by Bibek Debroy | The relevance of Mahabharata for our times

Monday, August 12, 2019

The start of India's space program

On the centenary birthday of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, some remembrance of the beginnings of the Indian space program.

A Brief History of Rocketry in ISRO (2012)
PV Manoranjan Rao & P Radhakrishnan
Universities Press (India) ISBN 978-81-7371-763-5
page 2

"Independent India was lucky to have Jawaharlal Nehru as its first Prime Minister, for he shared a common ideal with Bhabha and Sarabhai.  He believed that modern science and technology were indispensable to the development of the country......Bhabha, in the 1950s and 60s, was considered the czar of organized research in India and, more importantly, had Nehru's ear!  Thus, when Sarabhai, with Bhabha's support, came up with a space initiative for the country, Nehru said 'yes' even though  the country was passing through a very difficult phase both economically and politically.

From Fishing Hamlet to Red Planet: India's Space Journey (2015)
Chief Editor P.V. Manoranjan Rao
HarperCollins, ISBN 978-93-517-689-5
page xix

"At that time India was facing severe economic and political hardships - there was a food shortage and that humiliating war in the north east.   Yet when Bhabha and Sarabhai came up with the space initiative, Nehru lent his wholehearted support.

India's Rise as a Space Power (2014)
Professor U.R. Rao
Foundation Books, ISBN 978-93-82993-48-3
Pages 7-8

"Given the background work of Dr Sarabhai and his co-workers at PRL and the expertise developed by Prof. Bernard Peters, Prof. M.G.K. Menon and their colleagues at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bombay, who had flown a number of balloons from Hyderabad to carry out cosmic ray investigations,  Dr Homi Bhaba [sic] invited Dr Vikram Sarabhai to become a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and initiate space activity under the the umbrella of the Department of Atomic Energy.  Dr V. Sarabhai constituted the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) with Prof. E.V. Chitnis, ...."
Vikram Sarabhai - A Life (2007)
Amrita Shah
Penguin Books India, ISBN 978-0-67099-951-4
Pages 120-122, scattered excerpts

"When exactly Vikram came up with the notion of a space programme for India is not known.  R.G. Rastogi, his former student, claims to have heard him talk prophetically of setting up a rocket-launching programme 'by 1963' as far back as in the 1950s.  Praful Bhavsar, who had taken a leave of absence from PRL to do post-doctorate work at the University of Minnesota, recalls Vikram telling him something similar in 1959..."
"According to Rastogi, even Vikram's co-director at PRL, K.R. Ramanathan, was openly skeptical. 'He is too young, he has no idea how the government functions.  He will not get the money nor will establishment scientists allow it to happen.'...But Ramanathan had not counted on the chief weapon in Vikram's formidable arsenal of contacts: Homi J. Bhabha. 
It is tempting to speculate that Vikram and Bhabha, the two princes of Indian science, used their youthful days in Bangalore to spin up dreams for the future......It is tempting because of the uncanny sureness with which they set about their plans and their suggestion of complicity in so many of their actions. 
In August 1961, for instance, more than a year before the Chinese invasion and at a time when Nehru was still very much at the helm of the country's affairs, the union government, urged by Bhabha, identified an area known as 'space research and the peaceful uses of outer space' and placed it within the jurisdiction of the DAE.  As a part of the move, PRL was recognized as the 'appropriate centre' for research and development in space sciences.  And Vikram was co-opted into the board of the AEC.  More interestingly, in February 1962, the DAE created the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) under Vikram's chairmanship to oversee all aspects of space research in the country.  Vikram had overcome the first seemingly impossible hurdle.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

History and Modernity

Bernard Cohn (1928-2003) was a professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago who studied India extensively.  In his essay, "The Pasts of an Indian Village" (1961), Cohn examines the various pasts as remembered by the peoples of Senapur village in Uttar Pradesh, India.  The various groups, Thakurs, Chamars, Brahmins, Muslims and Telis, all have a different narrative regarding their  "legendary" past, as well as that of the past several generations.

Cohn goes on to note:

All Americans share a past created by our educational system and media of mass communication.  We can invoke this past and have it be meaningful across regional and class lines.  Indians do not as yet share such a past.  An appeal for action on the part of the central government, based on what is thought to be a universal identification with a traditional or historic past, is meaningless or leads to antagonistic reactions of major parts of the population...... 
I would speculate that a society is modern when it does have a past, when this past is shared by the vast majority of the society, and when it can be used on a national basis to determine and validate behavior. 
A shared history that can be used to determine and validate behavior.  I wonder if such exists even in that bastion of modernity, the United States of America, where there are many competing histories - of the Yankee North, of the Lost Cause South, of the African-Americans, of the Latinos, of the native Americans; and those of the various immigrant groups.   In terms of sheer numbers, perhaps the first two are the most important. 

But it was just a speculation on Cohn's part.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Harper’s Index: thermostat and test scores


Percentage change in women’s math test scores in a room that is between 80° and 90° F rather than 60° and 70° F : +27
In men’s math test scores : –7
Traced the source to:
Battle for the thermostat: Gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance

The math test in question was adding pairs of five digit numbers, 50 pairs in five minutes.
The verbal test was given the letters ADEHINRSTU, build as many (German) words as possible in 5 minutes.
"Our sample consisted exclusively out of students from universities in Berlin. The advantages of this subject pool is that they are relatively easy to recruit and homogenous in their cognitive skills. The disadvantage of this subject pool is that it is not representative of the whole population with respect to age and education level. 
About the results:
"Taken together, these results show that within a temperature range of 16 and 33 degrees Celsius, females generally exhibit better cognitive performance at the warmer end of the temperature distribution while men do better at colder temperatures. The increase in female cognitive performance appears to be driven largely by an increase in the number of submitted answers. We interpret this as evidence that the increased performance is driven in part by an increase in effort. Similarly, the decrease in male cognitive performance is partially driven by a decrease in observable effort. Importantly, the increase in female cognitive performance is larger and more precisely estimated than the decrease in male performance."
 What this result establishes, IMO, is that each person, or at least student in Berlin, tends to put forth most effort in a indoor temperature setting that suits them.   This may have some relevance to supposedly gender-neutral tests, the test setting may be important.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Stanislaus versus State of Madhya Pradesh - Historical Context

Rev Stanislaus vs Madhya Pradesh, 1977 SCR (2) 611, is a matter where the Supreme Court of India considered the issue whether the fundamental right to practise and propagate religion includes the right to convert, held that the right to propagate does not include the right to convert and therefore upheld the constitutional validity of the laws enacted by Madhya Pradesh and Orissa legislatures prohibiting conversion by force, fraud or allurement.

Here is a timeline.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

More China is in a hurry

NBC reports
China's rising tech scene threatens U.S. brain drain as 'sea turtles' return home
Silicon Valley was "a little bit slow for us," said Shenzhen-based entrepreneur Jason Gui, one of millions of Chinese people who were educated in the U.S.

Monday, July 15, 2019

New comments policy

Henceforth, any comment that in my judgment indicates that the commenter has not even scanned the posted material will be simply deleted.  Attempts to derail a discussion will also be deleted.  In this I am following Peter Woit’s polcy on his blog.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Religious Freedom and the Limits of Propagation: Conversion in the Constituent Assembly of India

Article: link (PDF)
Religious Freedom and the Limits of Propagation: Conversion in the Constituent Assembly of India
Sarah Claerhout and Jakob De Roover


In discussions about religious freedom in India, the country’s conflict regarding conversion plays a central role. The Constitution’s freedom of religion clause, Article 25, grants the right “freely to profess, practise and propagate religion,” but this has generated a dispute about the meaning of the right ‘to propagate’ and its relation to the freedom to convert. The recognition of this right is said to be the result of a key debate in the Constituent Assembly of India. To find out which ideas and arguments gave shape to this debate and the resulting religious freedom clause, we turn to the Assembly’s deliberations and come to a surprising conclusion: indeed, there was disagreement about conversion among the Assembly members, but this never took the form of a debate. Instead, there was a disconnect between the member’s concerns, objections, and comments concerning the draft article on the one hand, and the Assembly’s decision about the religious freedom clause on the other. If a key ‘debate’ took this form, what then could the ongoing dispute concerning conversion in India be about? We first examine some recent historiographical accounts of the Indian conflicts about conversion and proselytization. Then we develop a hypothesis that aims to make sense of this enduring conflict by identifying a blindness at its core: people reasoning against the background of Indian traditions see ‘propagation of religion’ as the human dissemination of tradition; this is incompatible with a religious conception where conversion and propagation of faith are seen in terms of God’s intervention. These two ways of seeing ‘propagation’ generate two conflicting experiences of the Indian dispute about religious freedom and conversion.


If for nothing else,  the glimpses of actual debates in the Indian Constituent Assembly are a reason to read this paper.

Green news: Indic women reforesters

Swarajya Magazine reports.

In Uttarakhand:

The Mahila Mangal Dal groups consisting of women volunteers also take up reforestation drives and do the valuable work towards linking trees and the planting of trees with the region's intangible heritage, festivals, rituals, weddings, and cultural events in the region.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Count of generations

If I take my maternal grandparents as generation 0, then already my family has generation 3 and generation 4 family members who are the same age (actually some generation 4 who are older by a few years than generation 3).

Is this just an anomaly of the modern age with extended maternal and child survival compared to the norm over 100K years of human existence? 

When geneticists try to estimate generation counts over aeons, I wonder what models they use.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

More on Indian secularism

Readers here should have noticed a peculiar situation.  Here I am, advocating SNB's position that India never produced a religion, and on the other hand, I do talk about Indian secularism, secularism and its failures in the Indian Constitution, etc., as though there is a Hindu religion. 

The problem is that we must hold two inconsistent sets of ideas in our mind - one to deal with India as it is today, with the language of "religion" and the current set of Constitutional laws; and the other to deal with India as it should be, if SNB's intellectual revolution ever catches fire.  In that mode, there is no Hinduism religion that needs to be accorded any freedom of religion, but something quite different; and we have to invent the mechanism that this collection of entities that goes under the name of Hinduism lives with the imported religions in India.

Of course, it may be true that too much water has flowed down the Ganga, and that Hindus can't now ever overthrow their religion and be this something else.

Anyway, SNB and Jakob de Roover spell out the consequences of the Hindu traditions being interpreted as a religion in this long, but don't tl;dr read.

Dark Hour of Secularism: Hindu Fundamentalism and Colonial Liberalism in India

China is in a hurry

NPR audio

"Bob Wimmer is a scientist at the University of Kiel in Germany who built a radiation detector for Chang'e 4 {China's lunar lander on the far side of the moon}.  He says the speed at which the Chinese work is astonishing.
"European missions are extremely slow, the Americans are about twice as fast, and the Chinese are a factor of two to five faster than the Americans."
From the moment he got funding to the moment his experiment launched, was just over a year, which is nothing for a space mission.
"It is just incredibly intense."
We all have to speed up too, or else pay tribute to our new overlords. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

In India, a Hindu wife cannot inherit from a Muslim husband

When, in India, a Hindu woman marries a Muslim man,

the marriage of a Hindu female with a Muslim male is not a regular or valid (sahih) marriage, but merely an irregular (fasid) marriage.
Thus has the Supreme Court of India ruled, January 22 of this year.  The Court further notes that "the legal effect of a fasid marriage is that" the wife "is not entitled to inherit the properties of the husband".

The Supreme Court judgement is available here (Google Drive Link, hope it works).

The only proponents for the Uniform Civil Code that the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution call for, are the so-called Hindu nationalists.   The so-called secularists don't want to fix these kinds of problems.

PS: Until this problem is fixed, anyone who finds inter-religious marriages of Hindu women with Muslim men to acceptable has to be termed as a anti-Hindu misogynist.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Quote on the "secular" Indian Constitution

“In crucial respects the Constitution is a charter for the reform of Hinduism.”

Law and Society in Modern India by Marc Galanter (1989)

Friday, July 05, 2019

Aanandaa Farms

Sunday, June 30, 2019

जो हिंदुस्तान का भविष्य है, वही मुसलमानों का भविष्य है: आरिफ़ मोहम्मद ख़ान

Arfa Khanum interviews Arif Muhammad Khan.

PS: OpIndia has provided a translation of some of the salient exchanges.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

A mild symptom of an old pattern

Amy Zegart wrote in The Atlantic:

Decades of Being Wrong About China Should Teach Us Something
American analysts keep trying to fit the country into familiar patterns—ignoring the many ways in which it’s an exception.

The underlying mistake is the assumption that Europe represents the norm and that the rest of the world recapitulates European history.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Eye opener

When I read this below more than ten years ago, it opened up a perspective that was totally new to me. Its author, Dr. Thomas A. Marks taught at the Army War College.

Thomas A. Marks (2004) India: State Response to Insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir – The Jammu Case, Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, 12:3, 122-143, DOI: 10.1080/09662840500072615

Indeed, the internal war in J{ammu}&K{Kashmir}, when scaled, does not begin to approach the levels of criminal violence present in those U.S. metropolitan areas best known for their murder rates. The ‘death count’ in Jammu & Kashmir for 2003 stood at 836 civilians, 1447 militants and 380 security personnel. If this violence is aggregated (2,663), which is unorthodox but certainly presents the worst possible statistical picture, it scales out at 24.5:100,000 population. This would place J&K between Memphis (24.7:100,000) and Chicago (22.2:100,000), in the 2002 murder rankings when examining American cities with populations greater than 500,000, well off the pace established by the likes of Washington, DC (45.8:100,000) or Detroit (42.0:100,000).


Disambiguations, Polly Hazarika's Ph.D. thesis, should be accessible below.

She provided it to me in response to my question,  "how does one jump from "such and such are problems with Hindus" to "the cause of these problems is lack of monotheism"?"

She writes: "The thesis is a bit dated, I would perhaps make the same arguments in a more measured way now. But the core of the problem with reform discourse and the problem in general of 19th century social reform in India has been looked at in a fairly consistent, systematic and coherent way."

Some observations, might whet your appetite for what is not an easy read.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Heathen, via Q&A

As R. put it:
 A sort of FAQ and very condensed overview of the content of SN Balagangadhara's "The Heathen In His Blindness": itself a brilliant but very long and dense tome.

"Chapter-wise Questions and Answers to understand “The Heathen in His Blindness: Asia, the West and the Dynamic of Religion"

Friday, June 07, 2019

QOTD, June 7, 2019

Important point to ponder. External Affairs Minister on rise of nationalism says, ‘nationalism in Asia is a nationalism of confidence while nationalism in other places is a nationalism of insecurity’.

Monday, June 03, 2019

A Peek into Einstein's Zurich Notebook

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Eukaryogenesis, how special really?"

Eukaryogenesis, how special really?

Another interesting article.


Eukaryogenesis is widely viewed as an improbable evolutionary transition uniquely affecting the evolution of life on this planet. However, scientific and popular rhetoric extolling this event as a singularity lacks rigorous evidential and statistical support. Here, we question several of the usual claims about the specialness of eukaryogenesis, focusing on both eukaryogenesis as a process and its outcome, the eukaryotic cell. We argue in favor of four ideas. 

  • First, the criteria by which we judge eukaryogenesis to have required a genuinely unlikely series of events 2 billion years in the making are being eroded by discoveries that fill in the gaps of the prokaryote:eukaryote “discontinuity.”
  • Second, eukaryogenesis confronts evolutionary theory in ways not different from other evolutionary transitions in individuality; parallel systems can be found at several hierarchical levels.
  • Third, identifying which of several complex cellular features confer on eukaryotes a putative richer evolutionary potential remains an area of speculation: various keys to success have been proposed and rejected over the five-decade history of research in this area.
  • Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, it is difficult and may be impossible to eliminate eukaryocentric bias from the measures by which eukaryotes as a whole are judged to have achieved greater success than prokaryotes as a whole. 

Overall, we question whether premises of existing theories about the uniqueness of eukaryogenesis and the greater evolutionary potential of eukaryotes have been objectively formulated and whether, despite widespread acceptance that eukaryogenesis was “special,” any such notion has more than rhetorical value.

Context: reading of David Quammen's "The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life".

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Peak Gene

Interesting article.

We have reached peak gene, and passed it.
Ken Richardson in "It's The End Of The Gene As We Know It" 

In scientific, as well as popular descriptions today, genes “act,” “behave,” “direct,” “control,” “design,” “influence,” have “effects,” are “responsible for,” are “selfish,” and so on, as if minds of their own with designs and intentions.

But at the same time, a counter-narrative is building, not from the media but from inside science itself.... Scientists now understand that the information in the DNA code can only serve as a template for a protein. It cannot possibly serve as instructions for the more complex task of putting the proteins together into a fully functioning being, no more than the characters on a typewriter can produce a story.
First, laboratory experiments have shown how living forms probably flourished as “molecular soups” long before genes existed. They self-organized, synthesized polymers (like RNA and DNA), adapted, and reproduced through interactions among hundreds of components. That means they followed “instructions” arising from relations between components, according to current conditions, with no overall controller: compositional information, as the geneticist Doron Lancet calls it.
In this perspective, the genes evolved later, as products of prior systems, not as the original designers and controllers of them. More likely as templates for components as and when needed: a kind of facility for “just in time” supply of parts needed on a recurring basis.
We have traditionally thought of cell contents as servants to the DNA instructions. But, as the British biologist Denis Noble insists in an interview with the writer Suzan Mazur, “The modern synthesis has got causality in biology wrong … DNA on its own does absolutely nothing until activated by the rest of the system … DNA is not a cause in an active sense. I think it is better described as a passive data base which is used by the organism to enable it to make the proteins that it requires.”

PS: the proposed definition of "gene" by Portin and Wilkins:
A gene is a DNA sequence (whose component segments do not necessarily need to be physically contiguous) that specifies one or more sequence-related RNAs/proteins that are both evoked by Genetic Regulatory Networks and participate as elements in Genetic Regulatory Networks, often with indirect effects, or as outputs of Genetic Regulatory Networks, the latter yielding more direct phenotypic effects.
Wiki tells us: genetic regulatory network (GRN) is a collection of molecular regulators that interact with each other and with other substances in the cell to govern the gene expressionlevels of mRNA and proteins.  

Monday, April 08, 2019

H.Res.109 - The Green New Deal

Friday, April 05, 2019

Arya per Sita in the Ramayana

Dholavira Seal from the Harappan Era.  No implication that this is connected to the story below. I just like it as an illustration.

 Aravindan Neelakandan reminds us:

In Ramayana, the Rakshasas are a group of people who were not, as many consider, uncultured, demonic people. Rather, they considered themselves superior to other humans and animals. In fact, when Ravana asked for the boon of invincibility from the creator Deity, he left out humans and animals because he thought they were too inferior to be bothered about.

The Rakshasa women who guarded Sita when she was being held captive were instructed by Ravana to torment Sita endlessly. Their taunts and threats even led Sita to contemplate suicide. But for the timely intelligent intervention of Hanuman - a Vanara emissary from Rama, she would have succumbed to the thought of suicide.

Now Rama had vanquished Ravana with the help of the Vanaras - the monkeys or the non-human primates. Hanuman was here to tell Sita the good news. Then he looked at all those Rakshasa women who had tormented her. He asked her permission to punish them.

Sita refused him to give permission but then told Hanuman what a bear once told a tiger.

This story told by Sita is known throughout India for millennia now . It is about how a hunter chased by a tiger in a forest, escaped by climbing a tall tree. In the tree was a bear. The tiger told the bear that the hunter is the killer of wild animals and hence the bear should push him down. The bear refused. He said that the tree being the home of the bear, the hunter had become its guest. And it was the dharma of the householder to protect the guest.
The tiger waited. Soon, the bear fell asleep. The tiger told the man that despite the grand words, the bear was actually reserving the man for himself. So, the tiger suggested that if the man pushed the bear down, then the tiger could easily devour and eat the sleepy bear and would go its way while the man too could be free of danger. The hunter yielded to the temptation and pushed the bear down. The bear, adept in living on the trees, saved itself.

Now the tiger appealed again to the bear. Pointing out the treachery of the man it asked him to push him down. The bear told the tiger that a noble person does not do evil deeds to revenge evil deeds. A good person, he said, always does good deeds irrespective of what the others do. After saying this, Sita defined the term ‘Arya’ in a very famous statement:

Kaaryam kaarunyamaaryen na kashchit naaparaadhyati
(कार्यं कारुण्यमार्येण न कश्चिन्नापराध्यति) :
Showing kindness (towards the saintly and the sinner alike) defines a person as Arya for there is none who has never committed a wrong.

Valmiki Ramayana: Yuddha Kanda: 46

Here, the term ‘Arya’, much maligned by colonial Indology, European historiography and Nazi racism , is defined as a quality that is even above mercy, compassion and empathy combined, possessed not only by humans but by all living beings. Only a being who possesses that quality irrespective of what species it belongs to, should be considered as noble - ‘Arya’. Thus defined Sita the term ‘Arya’.

Monday, March 25, 2019

India - a growing discontent?

There is an outfit that publishes the World Happiness Report.  The primary measure is the "Cantril Life Ladder" (from Hadley Cantril, Patterns of Human Concern, 1965).

As far as I can tell, some 1000-odd people of age 15+  in each of 156 to 158 countries are asked by Gallup polling each year the following question, which in English reads:
“Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”
The average for the country is supposed to reflect its level of happiness.   The Cantril Life Ladder is available for India from 2006 onwards.  The report also includes measures that one might think affects the answers given on the Cantril Life Ladder, such as per capita income and life expectancy, and survey measures such as perceived freedom to make life choices, perceived corruption, and so on.  India is generally improving on these measures over the 2006-2018 time period.  One interesting thing is that countries with poorer improvement on these measures can be happier than India.

Friday, March 22, 2019

NYT Magazine: Is Ancient DNA Research Revealing New Truths?

I am told that this article is worth reading: "Is Ancient DNA Research Revealing New Truths — or Falling Into Old Traps?"
Maybe some time I will.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

On Graduate School

For a graduate student it can be very difficult. It’s very easy to get discouraged if you have no real understanding that you’re going to be stuck for a very long time.

I could very easily have imagined myself getting discouraged and dropping out of graduate school. That could have easily happened to me under different circumstances.

Graduate school is a different environment and then you start to wonder—“Am I really good enough to do research-level math?” It’s hard, in fact, to tell. You see all these people who are doing great things around you and then you think, well, maybe you’re not cut out for this. So I think it’s important [long pause] to have someone who believes in you.
from an interview with Akshay Venkatesh.

Akshay Venkatesh in the news.